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Environmental Hazards of Transborder Lead Battery Recycling

Transborder Lead Battery Recycling

CEC Secretariat releases final independent report investigating environmental and health hazards of spent lead-acid battery trade in North America
Report recommends specific policy actions to North American governments on how to handle this common and potentially hazardous waste.
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On April 15, 2013 the Commission for Environmental Cooperation Secretariat released its final independent report: Hazardous Trade? An Examination of US-generated Spent Lead-acid Battery Exports and Secondary Lead Recycling in Mexico, the United States and Canada. The report analyzes the reported cross-border trade in lead-acid batteries and presents recommendations on how to better monitor their handling to the CEC Council, composed of Canada’s Environment Minister, Mexico's Secretary of the Environment, and the US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator.
Spent lead-acid batteries (SLABs) from cars and trucks are one of the world’s most-recycled consumer products because the lead they contain is valuable and can be processed for reuse.


This independent report, written under the authority of NAAEC Article 13, was initiated in 2012 in response to concerns that a surge in spent lead-acid battery (SLAB) exports to Mexico in recent years was an effort to avoid the costs of stricter environmental and health protection laws prevalent in the United States.
Lead is a persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic substance and how lead-acid batteries are recycled is an important economic, public health and environmental issue.


  • The regulatory frameworks covering sec­ondary lead smelters in the United States, Canada and Mexico do not provide equivalent levels of environmental and health protec­tion. Currently, the United States has the most stringent overall framework, while Mexico, with significant gaps in its existing regulatory framework, is the furthest from US stan­dards in terms of certain emission controls and requirements.
  • According to estimates, between 2004 and 2011, US net exports to Mexico increased by between 449 and 525 percent.
  • A review of USEPA and US Census Bureau data indicated that 47,352,382 kg of SLABs were exported to Mexico in 2011 without applying the proper harmonized tariff code. 


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  • The governments in Canada and Mexico should commit to achieving levels of environmental and health protections in the secondary lead industry that are functionally equivalent to those in the US.
  • The US should require the use of manifests for each international shipment of SLABs, and require exporters to obtain a certificate of recovery from recycling facilities.
  • Mexico needs to establish a comprehensive monitoring system to measure lead air emissions from every secondary lead smelter in operation in the country.
The report draws on statistics detailing the legal trade in SLABs from Environment Canada, the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Census Bureau, and the Mexican government
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